Thorndike’s Fire Department is rekindling its membership.

Since all but one of the town’s firefighters resigned last Wednesday, the corps is now up to six, according to Thorndike Selectman Bob Carter. They are all “completely new,” he said, adding that “a couple of others” have expressed interest in joining as well.

John Levers has been appointed chief, with Reggie Cunningham as his assistant chief. Both men have held high-ranking roles in past years but had since moved on to other departments.

The Thorndike department held a meeting with the towns it supplies mutual aid to on Sunday to go over coverage plans for the area while Thorndike remains short-staffed. Those towns include Albion, Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Monroe, Montville, Troy and Unity, Carter said.

“I think the situation has significantly improved,” said Bill Gillespie, president of the Waldo County Fire Chiefs’ Association, who helped coordinate the Sunday gathering. “There was a chimney fire Sunday night and they handled it by themselves. I think they’re on the road to recovery with a leader who is certified with Firefighter I and II (training) and has experience.”

He added that there is no threat to public safety in the rural Waldo County town, which has a population of 807.

Gillespie represented one of four county emergency service agencies that sent a letter to Thorndike’s selectmen and residents Jan. 23, stating that former Deputy Chief George Russell endangered the lives of the first responders he oversaw. The memo noted that Russell lacked sufficient training and leadership skills to lead the Fire Department effectively and outlined a handful of instances in which suppression efforts were delayed as a result. Among those was an instance in which a firefighter entered a house with a nonfunctional attack line while an unqualified volunteer ran the pump.

Lauren Carter was the only member of the Thorndike Fire Department to not resign in protest Feb. 20. “You have one member still,” she told selectmen then. “I’m not resigning.” Now the fire squad has attracted six addition members. Morning Sentinel file photo by Meg Robbins

“Please understand this is not intended to be a threat but a warning to help prevent injury, or worse, death of anyone due to a careless or inexperienced decision,” the letter read.

It was cosigned by Ken Clements, president of the Waldo County Firefighters Association; Dale Rowley, director of the Waldo County Emergency Managment Agency; and Owen Smith, director of the Waldo County Communications Center.

The letter also referenced Russell’s “criminal history,” which referred to a 2015 incident in which Russell pleaded guilty to stealing $5,000 of department funds.

Russell resigned after the document was distributed to townspeople on Feb. 15, and then-Chief Bill Isbister stepped down five days later. In a heated selectmen’s meeting where officials said they could not ignore Gillespie, Clements, Rowley and Smith’s claims, firefighters blamed faulty equipment instead of Russell. When the board would not waver on its stance, 28 firefighters walked out of the room with Russell and submitted a mass letter of resignation.

The letter, signed by Russell, claimed that the group was departing because “unsafe working conditions due to outdated and unsafe equipment that the Town of Thorndike Selectman Refuse to replace (is) putting not only the Firefighters lives at risk but the public as well.”

“George wasn’t the entire problem,” Gillespie said on the phone on Thursday. “The problem was training and experience. … The response you got from past Thorndike (firefighters) indicated that equipment was the problem. (On Sunday), we inspected all of the equipment and someone certified to inspect and review pumps said that the pumps were both in good working order. They are older trucks, but they are capable of doing the job at this point in time. All the Air-Paks are certified at this point in time and the (department) has all the gear that’s needed.”

At Thorndike’s Town Meeting on March 16, residents will be able to vote on replacing the current fire company with a municipal department that would be subject to more oversight. Waldo County Sheriff Jeff Trafton recommended that idea last week to avoid having a leader like Russell serve as chief in the future.

Carter previously said he did not think the town would be able to get an article on the town warrant in time for this year’s Town Meeting.

“We thought we were going to have to have a public hearing and the whole nine yards, but our lawyer said ‘Nope,’ and sent paperwork on it,” Carter said. “We’re going to fine-tune it at our next selectmen’s meeting. There are a couple little additions I’d like to put on it. It covers a lot of the chief’s responsibilities as far as appointing an assistant chief and captains and firefighters, but it doesn’t cover anything else about keeping equipment and training up to date with firefighters and didn’t cover anything about the proper paperwork that needs to be filled out when they respond to a fire. And we’d like a monthly report on the equipment to be filed at the Town Office.”

The next selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Town Office.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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